McDonald's and Starbucks back 'smart' reusable cup trials in California

The cities of San Francisco and Palo Alto are set to trial "smart" reusable cup systems developed with support from McDonald's and Starbucks, in a bid to reduce the amount of single-use coffee cups that are being sent to landfill.

The trials will explore how easy it is for baristas and customers to use the collection and drop off systems and how well the recovery of items is delivered

The trials will explore how easy it is for baristas and customers to use the collection and drop off systems and how well the recovery of items is delivered

In July 2018, McDonald's committed £3.8m ($5m) to help research, develop and commercialise recyclable and compostable coffee cups, joining Starbucks as a founding member of the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge. The funds provided by McDonald’s build on the £7m pledged by Starbucks to the Consortium earlier that year.

Starbucks and McDonald’s are aiming to develop a global solution that stops plastic-lined paper coffee cups being sent to landfill, by either giving them a second life as another cup or other recycled content. Successful innovations are now being released onto the North American market.

"We know finding a more sustainable cup solution will continue to require partnership and innovative thinking," Starbucks’ chief sustainability officer Michael Kobori said.

"The ongoing work from the NextGen Cup Consortium provides valuable insights and learnings for all the members, us included, as we continue to explore a variety of ways to better manage our waste and reduce our environmental footprint." 

This week, two NextGen Cup Challenge winners were unveiled and will have their respective "smart" reusable cup systems trialled in open environments and cafes in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

CupClub, which offers a tailored end-to-end service helping to reduce single-use plastic packaging by around 40%, will be trialled across the cities and Palo Alto will introduce cup drop off points for the system. The concept sees customer join the CupClub and pick up a reusable cup when they buy their coffee, which can be returned later to one of several collection points.

The other innovation to be trialled is Muuse, which uses QR codes to enable users to pick up and drop off reusable cups at various fixed locations throughout a city.

The trials will explore how easy it is for baristas and customers to use the collection and drop off systems and how well the recovery of items is delivered.

Material impact

Additionally, in March, two further NextGen Cup Challenge winners will begin pilots in cafes in Oakland, focusing on recyclable or compostable alternatives for single-use coffee cups.

While Starbucks and McDonald's are founding partners, The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé and Wendy's are all involved in the Consortium as supporting partners.

"We're excited to see many of the winning ideas become potential solutions that can be tested in a customer-facing environment," McDonald’s senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for North America Marion Gross said.

"Finding a cup that can be scaled will require continued innovation, testing and honing of solutions, so these pilots are an important step forward on that journey."

In the UK, both Starbucks and McDonald’s are part of a joint deal to roll out more than 400 recycling points for disposable coffee cups across the UK.

Last April, Starbucks partnered with environmental charity Hubbub to launch a funding initiative aimed at helping local authorities and other organisations launch or scale-up coffee cup recycling schemes.

Starbucks has also worked with Hubbub on its Square Mile waste behaviour change initiative, which enabled the recycling of 1.2 million cups in its first three months of operation.

Matt Mace



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